Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bringing a Embroidery Machine to BronyCon

How to bring a commercial embroidery machine to Bronycon, in 247 easy steps.

I wanted to bring my commercial embroidery machine to BronyCon so that I could do demonstrations and make random patches if I had time.  That meant I needed to move the machine about a thousand miles across the country, and hopefully not break it along the way.  The embroidery machine weighs more than 200 lbs, so there isn't a way for a single person to move it alone either.  I also don't have a truck with a bed, which meant it wouldn't fit inside my vehicle.  If I was going to bring it, I needed a way to have it outside my vehicle for the trip so it needed to be protected from the elements. I also needed a stand or something similar to put the machine on when at the convention since a regular table would shake to pieces.

I decided to make a 2 part stand/hitch combo.  The machine would sit on a platform that would go directly into the hitch mount on my SUV for the trip, then the platform would be lowered into a wheeled stand so it could be rolled around by one person.

First up, the platform.  It is built out of 1" by 2" and 2" by 2" square tubing with a 0.1875" and 0.250" wall thickness with some 0.1875 angle and flats on the 2 sides where the machine feet will sit.

There is a 1" tall edge to keep the machine from vibrating over an edge while in transit, which also adds some extra strength longitudinally.  There is no reason to have a complete platform since the platform and machine will have a complete cover, so the extra metal would just be wasted weight.  I also welded on 4 tie-downs so the machine could be strapped to the platform directly, and the platform could have a safety chain to my SUV to keep it attached in case the hitch pin came out or broke.

I used standard over-engineering when I calculated how to build the platform.  I took the weight of the stand and machine, then tripled it for the normal 3x safety margin.  Then, I doubled that value to provide for shock loading, such as hitting a huge pothole or something.  Assuming I did the calculations correctly, the platform bar will start to yield at 2,100 lbs at the farthest point. Yield means bend without returning to original shape.  Basically, this is the point at which it will break and the embroidery machine becomes a bunch of worthless bits and pieces of metal and plastic. This platform should actually be strong enough to have another car on it before the platform breaks.

Once the platform was welded up and painted blue, I started on the stand.  The stand is made out of the angle iron that reenforced the corners of the shipping carton the machine came in.  Horray for recycling!   The stand needs to support the weight of the machine plus the weight of the platform and be sturdy enough to not shake apart from the vibration of the machine while it was running.

2 casters are fixed and 2 are rotating so the stand and platform can be easily maneuvered.  The notch that you see in the stand is where the 2" square reciever tubepasses though.  The reciver tube acts as a handle to move the stand around.

This is the painted platform sitting on top of the painted stand.  This is what the whole thing will look like before putting the embroidery machine on the top.  The 2" square receiver tube had not been cut to size in this picture yet; roughly 8 inches was removed.

The plan was to have the receiver tube sit just a tiny bit higher than the receiver itself.  Then, use a screw jack to lift the back of the SUV enough to line up the receiver and hitch, then push the platform/stand forward into the receiver and put in the hitch pin.

It worked exactly as I had hoped, easily sliding in.  The screw jack was then lifted another inch to lift the platform off the stand, and the stand rolled out from under the platform.  This meant that no actual manual lifting had to be done at any point in the load/unload process.  The weight would be carried by either the stand or by the jack. Additionally, at all points in the process, there was at least single redundancy so that a single failure of the stand, platform, or hitch would not cause the machine to fall.  I then drove around with a refrigerator on the stand to test it to make sure it could handle some weight and not fracture.

Next up I made a cover out of blue duck cloth and waterproofed it.  I used a 108" zipper to attach the bottom to the top so that the entire bottom could be unzipped to help loading and unloading.  I used spring hooks to back up the zipper in case the zipper had any issues with hurricane force winds that are generated while driving (Always have a backup plan if one thing fails!)

I had some help lifting the machine on to the platform and stand the night before the trip to BronyCon.  In the morning, I lined up the platform/stand and hooked it up in the hitch.  For the first time the platform was holding the weight of the machine by itself.  I used a tape measure to measure the deflection of the platform to make sure it wasn't yielding, then attached the cover for the first time. 

This is where I had the first minor issue.  I made the cover a rectangle, and not form fitting to the machine.  This made the cover a bit longer than I wanted, so it would end up catching too much wind from under the car.  This wasn't a major issue since I planned on using 2 tie-downs all the way around the machine and cover, but the extra size of the cover made it look a little less 'professional' looking.  Oh well.

Off I drove to BronyCon.  I stopped at every other rest stop to check that the machine and cover weren't having any issues, and to check the tie downs in case any worked lose.  No issues were found on the entire road trip.  The platform worked just as I had hoped, and the machine arrived without being broken or damaged.  The only issue was the thread spools got really tied up from bouncing around even though I had them taped down.  I used the screw jack to lift the hitch and put the platform back on the stand (I had an audience watching intently actually) and wheeled it out to my booth. 

When the show was over, I hooked it back up to my SUV for the trip back home, and I actually remembered to take some pictures this time!  Here's the machine sitting on the platform and in the hitch.  You can see the stand off to the right after wheeling it out of the way.  The cardboard cover is over the LCD screen for extra insurance.  As you can see, I learned from the inbound trip and removed the spools from the machine so they couldn't get tied up from vibration.

It looks like the machine is floating in mid air.  It looks scary, because there is a lot of money that would be lost of that 2" receiver bar bent or broke, and an embroidery machine bouncing down the highway and disintegrating as it does so is not exactly good for anyone. 

The machine was then tied down to the stand, and the cover was put on for the trip back home.  Again, no issues at all on the trip back home.  The platform and duck cloth cover held up just fine for the full two thousand miles or so.  Overall, I am extremely happy with how it worked out. 

Having the machine going in front of my booth lead to all sorts of questions along with a crowd of people watching the machine do its thing.  I actually only had time to make 3 commissions at the show, it was just too busy for much else.  I just had the machine doing existing designs so that folks could see how patches were made.  On the 2nd day, someone actually pulled up a chair and watched it make patches for a little over 2 hours. 

The stand and platform cost about $200 to make, and it made about $18 profit in patches over the 3 days, so bringing the machine was not what I would call a money maker.  But having it there and going lead to so many awesome conversations about embroidery, and the 2 or 3 hundred folks that stopped to watch it obviously enjoyed it.   I think it was definitely worth the effort to bring.